Boudoir Photographer's Response to the Anti-Retouch Husband

Boudoir Photographer's Response to the Anti-Retouch Husband

I'm sure you've seen it. That letter sent from a woman's husband describing how his "heart sank" upon seeing his wife's retouched boudoir photos. Who hasn't seen it? It's everywhere, it's beyond viral, and in my opinion, it's a crock.

Speaking as a woman who has personally modeled for four boudoir sessions, I can confidently say that if we wanted reality, we would look at ourselves in the mirror and save a few grand.  

As a photographer who has shot well over 500 boudoir clients, I can confidently say that my clients may say the resulting photos are for a "him," but they are just as much for her, if not more. I do my best to avoid perceived flaws during capture and prefer a light touch in post-processing, but if my client wants more, I give her more, because in the end, I want my clients to look upon their photos with joy and pride and without a single ounce of regret.

Here's a letter from a recent client:

You made me so comfortable and confident that I left feeling like I had the biggest, sexiest secret in the world. My confidence was through the roof. Then, I saw the pictures! There wasn't one I didn't love and I couldn't believe that I was even more confident and happy with my choice. The gift for my husband went exactly like I planned — he went nuts. What I didn't anticipate is how this experience would reshape my perspective on so many other areas of my life.

I learned that I held so much untapped potential in me, so much confidence, and so much strength to try new things and I could trust that, just like the photos. I should anticipate the amazing.

Did I retouch her perceived flaws? You can bet on my forty-four year-old cellulite-ridden butt I did.  

Am I the only boudoir photographer irked by this letter that has gone viral? Not even close.  Read this very articulate and dead-on response by Lynn Clark here.

You can also read this response by Danea Burleson or this one by Leslie Cervoski.

What do you think? Should you retouch your client until she's happy or let the photos be?

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33 Comments

Peter House's picture

I agree. Here is the way I have always explained retouching:

Real life is fluid. When you and I interact my brain is not micro focusing on all the zits, lines, scars, hairs, etc that might make a moment "imperfect". I am fluidly moving through the motions and focusing on the bigger picture.

However, when an image is taken, it freezes a moment in time and gives me the chance to analyze the entire scene down to the most minuscule detail. In that freeze frame I might start noticing things about you that otherwise I may not have perceived. Maybe I'll catch that small birthmark. Maybe I'll notice the slight unibrow. Maybe I will catch a glimpse of thinning hair.

Retouching simply helps to remove all those distractions and brings the focus back on the beauty of the individual.

Jason Ranalli's picture

This is exactly EXACTLY the truth. When you see someone in person you definitely do not notice all these flaws.

Michael Ciurleo's picture

Peter this is the best explanation of retouching ever.

Ovanes Miskaryan's picture

Peter, as a portrait photographer this is exactly what I tell clients and all those anti-photoshop sceptics. Especially in our high resolution digital era to leave a portrait unretouched is simply cruel. It is like looking at a person through a magnifier.

I also bring the example of painters. Noone of them painted every single dot or wrinkle on the skin of their clients. And gradually people understand that photography is not photocopying, it is a visual art in its own right.

Annis Joye's picture

Well said Peter. Retouching in moderate amounts is rather a must with modern day HD photography. However some software like liquify, perfect365, pinkmirror.com, etc will do too much of face modifications that will remove the personality of subject. Only if retouching stays with simple skin smoothening and removing fly aways.

I just got around to reading the original letter today and yes it struck me as fake as well. Symptom of living in the internet of barely-satire and blatantly fake news? Quite possibly, but it just seemed odd to me.

But, I think both sentiments are fair, if that's what you/the client want to do.

This story is "everywhere"? It's "beyond viral," is it?

Lady, if I had to come to a niche website like Fstoppers and waste five minutes of my day to see this silly post, let's just say it's not viral.

Sorry, but I find this kind of disingenuous hyperbole annoying and IT'S EVERYWHERE

Rob Mynard's picture

In Petra's defence, this story has appeared in my facebook feed a number of times (and people have tagged me in the comments of other posts as well, even though I've never shot boudoir and do very minimal if any retouching), I've also seen it talked about on other photography blogs, boingboing and the reddit front page and there was a feelgood article on our local news about it... I haven't yet seen it go as far as ads on the sides of busses but other than that it does seem that for a short while this story was all over (at least my small corner of) the internet.

Let's be clear — boudoir photography is not photojournalism. When it comes to photography being artwork, "reality" is not the point. Conveying or capturing emotion, feelings, etc is the point. Anyone complaining about retouching should also call out everyone doing HDR as liars too while they're at it. They're manipulating the image to make it look like what the human eye actually saw with its ability to see higher dynamic range. Anyone who has dropped in a new skye into a landscape is lying. We're all liars.

B Jones's picture

While I agree with you Caleb, I will say that when I was in my darkroom, at the enlarger, dodging and burning prints, it was more like an art then what PS and LR users do now. I couldn't buy a preset and look just like so and so then. Since the dawn of photography prints have been manipulated staged or adjusted. It's just a fact of photography.

And did you have to walk uphill both ways to school?

Anonymous's picture

The reasons for or against retouching are complex, subjective, and emotional. There is no right or wrong here, but merely what works for the client. The client should come before your ego. (IMHO)

The most important thing any photographer can do is talk to their client and listen to what they are asking for and what they need. There are many reasons someone may want boudoir photos, and understanding what the client is truly looking for will allow you to deliver the results that best suit their needs. Of course this is true with any client in any business.

All said, I found that it's so amazing to see someone's expression change when they realize that they can look amazingly beautiful in photos without much work, and that they are truly beautiful.

It's also hard taking beautiful photos of people who see themselves through the lens of a negative body-image and never seeing anything nice about themselves.

Annis Joye's picture

"people who see themselves through the lens of a negative body-image".
Well said! Even though we are looking beautiful in the portraits, most of us have some sort of deeply rooted insecurities. But, will the angle at which we take the photo make us look fatter?

I don't think the letter has anything to do with retouching and photoshop........ I think the husband realized how he had been treating his wife over the years. He realized that his wife doesn't think she was attractive enough and wanted all her imperfections removed from the photos. I think he realized that all of her imperfections are the reason why he still loves her and needs to express how he feels about her more often. By taking away those imperfections he realized there was something wrong with him and his relationship with his wife. Instead of describing her imperfections as flaws that she couldn't change, he is embracing those imperfections as the trials of their life together. How often do you hear that husbands' leave their wives for newer, younger models because of the imperfections that occur over a time of a relationship. Instead he is embracing and realizing he needs to make his wife feel wanted and loved in his relationship. He even thanks the photographer for opening his eyes with her photos of his wife. I think, think you should try reading the last paragraph again........

I wish I could agree with you. I really do. But if the letter is even real, the husband's rejection of this COURAGEOUS gift by complaining to it's creator about how removing his wife's stretch marks (or whatever) it erased evidence of the children (who very well may have been yelling at each other in the background) is ridiculous at best, and cruel at worst.

It takes incredible vulnerability for a woman who does not love her body to do a boudoir shoot. It takes incredible trust in the photographer not only to do as she's asked but to do more.

Imagine that you went out on a limb, took a risk in hope of giving someone you loved an amazing gift. You spent a lot of money on it. And when you gave it to that someone, they reacted in this manner--heart dropping and all, writing to the creator? I'm guessing that, as any human being, you'd feel sad if not a bit embarrassed and to the worst extent humiliated and ashamed.

I mean, if Aunt Edna knits a Christmas sweater for you, you'll pretend to love it and keep your mouth shut otherwise. And wear it when she comes to Christmas dinner until you "accidentally wash it."

On it's face, regardless of the words he's used, the husband is saying that his wife's wishes to "feel gorgeous for once" are not important.. He might like her love handles, but she does not. He might love her stretch marks, but she called them "angry" and that tells me she's not fond of them, and they make her feel less than desirable. HIs letter is not love. It's shaming. And one should be shamed by anyone, let alone the person they are married to.

Finally, regardless of whether the husband told the photographer in the letter, simply reaching out the photographer understandably felt ashamed of her work because otherwise she wouldn't have cried for 6 months afterward. She did what she was paid to do. Regardless of the retouching debate, she has solid boudoir photography skills. I'm sure the wife's photos were gorgeous.

Jason Ranalli's picture

There's so many fake memes, letters, facts posted on Facebook etc with these weird agendas that try to make people feel guilty for some reason that folks are losing the distinction on what's real and what isn't.

I sort of believe the original letter from the husband is fake.

However, fake or not the responses are dead on. If you want 100% reality then go have someone take photos with their iPhone of you rolling your groceries out of Walmart on a Saturday morning. On the other hand if you want something that is a work of art and a reflection of yourself in a wonderful light then hire a photographer.

Bad retouching does deserve a back-lash sometimes but I think it's getting way overblown these days and the complaints are somewhat unfounded.

Wow, it's a "crock", meaning you utterly dismiss what this man is saying as valid? Maybe in the future you can offer a service where you just photoshop a client's head onto a perfect body then. It's only different in degree. Clearly the client and her husband had different expectations, but to call his a "crock", as in, "of sh--" is so fantastically arrogant that it makes me think you are just saying it for shock value.

Why are you so "irked"? Because someone questions the value of airbrushing reality? The negative reactions to this letter seem to me to be just from gigantic egos who can never handle anyone who dares question their "art". Get over yourself.

Scott Harris's picture

The wife asked for the retouching without the husband's input. It was a surprise gift. For the husband to later castigate the photog for performing a requested service is disparaging to the wife. She wanted to feel beautiful and sexy, and by not supporting *her* decision to do so removes a portion of her agency.

Willie Brown's picture

Where did you see that he didn't support her?

Dana Goldstein's picture

Could you quote him "castigating" the photographer? Would that be when he complemented her work? Maybe when he apologized in advance because what he was saying really had nothing to do with her photographs per se?

Scott Harris's picture

The whole thing sent to the photographer. Why send that at all if you're not upset with the images? "You gave my wife exactly what she asked for, and they're good pictures. I just wish my wife hadn't asked you for them to be retouched"

How is that in any way the photographer's problem? The photographer provided the service requested admirably, and this dude decides to lecture the photographer on her methods?

I don't buy it.

Willie Brown's picture

Reread it bruh. He wasn't lecturing photographer. He was thanking the photographer. If it wasn't for that photo, he wouldn't have known that he was treating her negatively, and now they're about to have a better relationship from it. Basically, the photographer saved a relationship and didn't even know it. *shrug*

Rob Mynard's picture

I assumed that what the author meant by "its a crock" was that the whole story seems fabricated and that the photographer has invented both the client and her disapproving husband for a little bit of free publicity (something there is no current evidence for as far as I can see).

Willie Brown's picture

The fact that people are actually complaining about the letter on here really makes my skin crawl. I mean, for one the guy was giving the photographer props. He respected all of the work that he did, and it made him realize that he needed to love his woman even more. What's wrong with that?

Who cares if the letter is real, or if its fake. The fact of the matter is that it made the husband love his wife even more and it was an open letter to let women know that they are beautiful. If you have a problem with that, then I'm sorry.
Honestly, I think the post was sweet. From what I read, this had nothing to do with bashing retouchers, but more uplifting and loving your significant other, regardless of imperfections. He didn't come down on the photographer be like "You shouldn't have done this, you shouldn't have done that.". He thanked the photographer. Sure, he said "It wasn't my wife", but he wasn't mad about it.

So yeah, I don't see why people are offended by this letter. It wasn't bashing photographers or retouchers at all. It was actually thanking them. Just sayin.

I read Lynn Clark's response and I agree with her and I'd venture to say that her hubby has probably aged also, possibly has a beer belly, or also has "love handles" from her cooking.

I couldn't agree with the letter and disagree with you more. It's good that the husband wasn't upset with the photographer, but his perspective is amazing, humble, beautiful. As a photographer you have to make your client's happy, but man, that letter really resonated well, the message, the tone, so good.

I felt that letter was a contrived and weakly veiled attempt at getting a PR message out. If that's the way you feel, then fine...just get the message out -- there's no husband to come forth and "claim" his convictions. Convictions, that were in fact, so strong ...he felt the need to write a photographer about them? NO.

No one has a right to tell women how to feel about their beauty. No one has a right to steal confidence gained through that session -- Photoshopped or not. Thanks for articulating what I feel.

Dana Goldstein's picture

Wow. A man says his wife is beautiful just as she is: IT MUST BE AN EVIL CONSPIRACY! IT MUST BE A LIE! After all, what husband in his right mind would say such a thing? All that these defensive reactions show IMHO is that he really hit a nerve.

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